Bertina texts me the night before our workout: meet us in front of Casa de los Tres Mundos tomorrow.
Oh my gosh! In Plaza de Los Leones? I text back: Okay! So exciting!
And then my stomach clenches. Hold on, I cannot meet them at the Plaza for a workout, out in the middle of everything, in front of everybody. What are they asking of me? It’s one thing for beautiful Bertina to make amazing films of everything that she can do all over iconic Granada, but presenting my physical self in action is something that is reserved for limited venues: the gym, the yoga studio, my garage, okay maybe the lakefront where no one ever goes in the mornings. But the center of historic Granada?
That same night I lay my case before my son, who is almost 12, giving him all the reasons why I, his mother, cannot do it. He listens patiently and nods hearing me out. I am a mother, I am known, I have reputation. Well, I finish, I guess I am just going to have to tell them in the morning that we have to go somewhere else. My son, doesn’t disagree but he looks at me curiously wondering what the big deal is, but willing to trust my judgement in areas he hasn’t yet personally explored. I know that I have given him an I can’t do it message and for all kinds of reasons with which I am not entirely comfortable, but I push that aside to give my anxiety about the next day more room.
The next morning, I find Chris and Bertina in front of Casa del Café waiting and smiling. Chris has the tripod out and then I realize that it’s also going to be filmed again (which I don’t mind actually, I want Bertina to have evidence of her good work, but it reminds me that today is ever more a visual exhibition).
I try to put my case before them. I try to explain how it’s different for Bertina: she is beautiful, she is accustomed to owning that beauty wherever she goes. I try to explain how there are separate selves in my life. The woman that is a mom, the woman that attends meetings, the woman who is feminine and the woman who exhibits her physical body in limited ways on limited occasions.
Bertina eyes penetrate me knowingly. Why? She asks plainly.
Umm. How to explain. The feeling out of expectations, the hiding behind each one for approval.
Why are all those pieces of you separated? She asks. Why are you chopping yourself up into pieces? You are beautiful. Don’t apologize for it. Bertina and Chris look at each other reading each other’s thoughts.
Chris approaches the subject in his own way. Beautiful women are always apologizing for looking the way they do. They feel guilty for being given something by God that they didn’t earn. But what they don’t realize it that those are God-given gifts. Accept it. The world loves beautiful women. It’s a gift. Beautiful women make the world a better place.
Something inside me registers what he is saying. As a young woman, in your teens and twenties, maybe before you have children, females are ruthlessly determined to out-pretty each other. There was no end to what I would have done in an earlier version of me to up my physical appeal. Critical, honest hours in front of the mirror, motivated exercise, inspired shopping, and expert salons: there was a competitive advantage to prettiness, we knew that not only did we get the attention that we wanted from men, pretty girls had the respect of all the women too. But part of that mutual respect was that we were all trying to be our best, so we were together in the same game. It felt like a more level playing field when everyone was at least trying.
But then that all changes with the years. Other priorities slip in that are considered more valuable: education, careers, marriage and motherhood. This kind of competition for men and attention no longer seems so necessary. We want to present other images of ourselves as safe, motherly, pretty but not too pretty, certainly not overtly sexy. The beautiful woman downplays who she is now. If nobody is really trying to keep up their appearance anymore and she does, it’s not really fair is it? And of course there can be a kind of resentment and suspicion there. What about the inappropriate attention it attracts? I can remember worrying about all of that.
Bertina doesn’t worry about her beauty: she owns it. She won’t apologize for it. She doesn’t change who she is based on her audience. She tells me that if someone won’t accept me for who I am or if they don’t like my physical appearance than I have to ask myself if I really want to be around them? Do I want to always play a role to fulfill their expectations of me denying my inner self? What am I telling myself when I do that? That who I am, my physical body, my hopes, my dreams are negotiable to make everyone else happier?
Yep, that is what I tell myself. All the time. Why? Why do we crush our own spirits? Where did I learn to do that? It’s crazy now that I think about it. How many people can I possibly be in one day? How do I keep that all organized? What mental energy that must consume replacing my own expectations for me with everyone else’s.
They have more than made their case. I get it. I don’t have any problem with exercising in the middle of Plaza los Leones. My problem is that someone else might not like it and I am afraid of just telling them to deal with it. But I realize now this is most certainly wrongful thinking and so self-damaging.
A younger Kelly never would have stood for it. I never would have let anyone dictate to me how I was going to live and present myself. It is startling how much we can change when we are not mindfully observing what is happening to us over time. Chris says it is like the anecdotal frog in the pot of water who doesn’t sense danger until he is boiled and cooked and he is right.
By the time I was aware that I had changed myself for the people around me, it was late; it just sort of seemed like who I was. But that subdued, apologetic version of me is not at all who I am deep inside. It doesn’t feel right at all. I don’t want all these various pieces of me floating around on a platter like at a cocktail party, something for everyone’s personal tastes. I am me. One person. One woman who is going to say yes today to the best offer she has received in a long time.
We are going to do this, I tell Bertina. I want to do it. Bertina smiles, are you sure? Yep. Totally sure. Let’s do it.
Bertina and I then have what is easily our best workout, yet. We are laughing, we are free, out in the open in the middle of the world, enjoying our lives. For what is there to apologize?
For happiness? For good health? For our blessings?
If I thought that I was going on this journey with my trainers to take a pretty picture in a beautiful dress, I greatly was mistaken. This is so much more.